Press Release

IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship Concerned about Excessive Use of Police Force against Demonstrators and Attacks on Journalists during Protests in Ecuador

October 9, 2019

   Related links

   Contact info

IACHR Press Office
[email protected]

   More on the IACHR
A+ A-

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression are concerned about the excessive use of force by Ecuador’s law enforcement officers and about the escalation of violence by demonstrators. These events—which have left scores of people injured and included 477 arrests and 31 attacks on journalists—have happened in the context of protests around the country against a series of economic measures announced by the government. Two people have allegedly been killed while taking part in protests, although the circumstances of these deaths remained uncertain.

According to the information received by the IACHR, there have been strikes and demonstrations throughout Ecuador since October 3, to protest against the elimination of fuel subsidies. Some of these protests have involved barricades and burning objects. In response to these events, Ecuadorian President issued Decree 884 of October 3, declaring a national state of emergency for 60 days based on the serious unrest and disruptions of public order, and suspending the rights to freedom of assembly and association. Later, through Decree 888 of October 8, President Moreno moved the seat of government to Guayaquil, restricted the right to freedom of movement throughout the country, and mobilized the armed forces and the National Police to protect human rights.

The Commission notes the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court’s decision of October 7, to validate the state of emergency while limiting it to 30 days. The IACHR further notes that this court decision restricts the effects of the state of emergency to ensure compliance with international and inter-American human rights standards, and to fight only acts of violence during public protests and demonstrations (even if these express social discontent).

According to the available information, scores of people have been injured during protests, some of them due to the indiscriminate use of tear gas, while 477 individuals have been arrested to date, including several journalists. Footage that has been circulated on social media shows repeated instances of a disproportionate use of force by National Police officers who dispersed some of the demonstrations in Quito and Guayaquil.

More than 30 reporters and photojournalists have denounced attacks by both law enforcement offices and demonstrators and shown videos where police officers demanded that they destroy their records of protests and police actions. Recently, Radio Pichincha was allegedly raided by police, with a court warrant to look for evidence that the radio station had committed the crime of “inciting discord.”

The Commission was also told of acts of violence and an excessive use of force against members of indigenous communities who joined the protests, both in Quito and on their ancestral lands. In this context, communicator Camila Martínez, of the Ecuadorian Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE, by its Spanish acronym), was arrested while she covered the protests, and she was sentenced to five days in prison for disregarding legally constituted authority. The IACHR notes that these groups have decided to keep up their protests against State measures.

The IACHR further notes that certain groups of demonstrators have caused serious violence during some protests, by throwing stones and other objects at police officers and engaging in plunder and other types of attacks, in some cases against the media. According to State data, 35 police officers have been injured. The IACHR strongly condemns all violence and stresses that social protest is legitimate as long as it is peaceful. The Commission further reminds the State that the security forces have the obligation to allow demonstrations and protests to take place and to isolate any demonstrators who resort to violence.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship stress that States need to act based on the legality of all public protests or demonstrations and to assume they are not a threat to law and order. To prevent similar events from happening again in the future, the IACHR calls on the State to promote dialogue and to ensure full respect for human rights. The State’s security operations need to be carefully planned, with clear protocols that guarantee adequate, gradual, and proportionate use of non-lethal weapons, ensure full respect for human rights, and promote dialogue.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship stress that States need to act based on the legality of all public protests and demonstrations. The fact that some groups or individuals exercise violence during a demonstration does not per se make that whole protest violent, and it does not warrant actions by the security forces to disperse protesters using force or to carry out mass arrests. The IACHR warns that the actions of the police and the armed forces must focus only on preventing violence and on ensuring the right to protest, without subjecting peaceful demonstrators to any kind of direct repression or arbitrary arrests.

The State has a duty to protect the safety of journalists and communicators who are reporting in the context of public demonstrations, and to ensure that they will not be arrested, threatened, attacked, or have their rights restricted in any other way for doing their job. Attacking journalists and destroying or seizing equipment from anyone covering such events violates freedom of expression, both individually and collectively.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship urge the authorities to promptly and comprehensively investigate all allegations of violence and to punish anyone responsible for that violence. This is true both for allegations of an excessive use of force by officers of the police and other law enforcement agencies and for attacks and plunder committed by private individuals. Given the arrests that have been carried out, the IACHR stresses the importance of supervision by the Ombudsman’s Office, to verify detainees’ condition and to protect their rights to safety, integrity, and due process.

Finally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issues a call for dialogue, so that all political and social actors may solve their disputes peacefully and with the utmost respect for human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 252/19